Caveat Emptor

October 28, 2008

It’s a world of consumers. Consuming so that we can consume even more. Lovely cycle this. And you can see how well it’s doing these days in the financial markets. Never you mind. Remember that everyone’s livelihood depends upon somebody else buying their stuff. So as a result of the need for buying, there is selling.

I began furnituremaking out of a misguided sense that at least I wouldn’t have to be selling. That what I was doing somehow wasn’t commerce. The work would sell itself. People would recognize its inherent quality and it would be a simple thing as people saw the value in my work.

What a dope.

As I learned, as every maker learns, this work needs hard work in the selling of it. It does not sell itself. No one needs a chair that will last 100 years. A lifetime is good enough for most folks. For most of the market 10 years is more than good enough.  What we have to sell is difficult because it is so unneeded. But I think the approach may be off if all that you try to sell is your work.

What I think we actually try to sell is not so much furniture as the idea of making hand made furniture. The furniture of course is a part of the deal, the outcome of our efforts. But what we are really trying to sell is the idea that the customer is going to become part of a process where someone, someone they can shake hands with, this someone has gone out and chosen the wood, and figured out a design, and cut up the wood square, and joined it together well, and polished it to within an inch of its life, and finished it even further. They will become a part of this process and will be able to see it unfold before them.

The difference between this and the box of cereal they opened this morning in hungry consumer fashion is that they will know the maker. They will be able to see his progress, depending upon how open your studio policy is, they will see the plans and see the outcome of these plans. For most customers, this is akin to looking into the heavens to see the sky operate. What marvels that these makers can do, creating things from sticks! And this is what we do. We create magic for this non-visual folk. These folk so buried in their laptops, their spread sheets, their money making lives selling something that people really value highly. For these folk we create something that is not so highly valued although it comes with a high price. [Albeit a high price that still doesn’t cover your ends.]

We let these movers and shakers see the hand of god at work instead of the hand of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, the nameless engineers who created this world of effect. What causes this world? Who can say? The computer causes it somehow. But us furniture makers, we actually do the work. We do the creating. This is marvelous stuff worthy of wonder. So let the buyer beware of other work. Let them know that they are about to witness the creation of something of value. That can be passed from hand to hand, from this generation to the next. Tell me you want to do that with a computer file.

Gary Rogowski is the Director of The Northwest Woodworking Studio. Visit us at

Published in: on October 28, 2008 at 4:51 pm  Comments (2)  

More Habits for Your Stupid Days

October 14, 2008

Continuing on about the table saw and the habits you should have in place for your stupid days in the shop.

My rule of thumb on the saw is to use a push stick for ripping if my fist cannot fit between the fence and the blade. This minimum width forces me, even on one of my stupid days, to go find a push stick. Now I know you’ve ripped small pieces, as have I. But why risk it? It’s so easy to grab a push stick instead of hugging the fence with your claw of a hand. You know the risk. Just put this habit in place.

Also always make sure you have push sticks, within reach, on the saw. So if in the middle of a cut that you have started and then in a flash of realization say, I am an idiot!, you can stop the cut, DO NOT MOVE THE BOARD, and reach over to grab a push stick and then use it to finish the cut.

When feeding stock through on a rip cut, stand just to the left of the blade so any debris flies by your head and not into it. Push with your hands down and into the fence. This position lets you see what’s going on more easily than hiding on the other side of the fence. You won’t know when your workpiece might come off the fence and into the back half of the blade.

Make sure you always push your lumber completely through the cut as well. The habit you should have is to push the board past the blade and off the table insert. Yes, I know this is much farther than you need. But as a habit that you put in place, it will save you from a moment’s laziness and catching the back half of that saw blade. Touching that part of the blade is always risky. Move all the way off the insert each time and you’re safe.

Have some kind of a run-off table in place. It can be as simple as a garbage can with a piece of plywood on top of it. But as long as it supports your board on the outfeed side of the cut, it works. It prevents you from reaching around in the middle of a cut and trying to hang on with your left hand. Never do this.

Don’t be lazy and crosscut freehand on the table saw. You might push a sawn board into the blade and it could come flying back at you. The same is true with crosscutting with a miter gauge and the fence or trying to crosscut a narrow piece against the fence. Don’t. It’s too easy to catch the back half of the blade. Any time you or your work comes into contact with the back half of the blade, very bad things happen on the table saw.

You are of course always wearing safety glasses at the saw. You cannot blink fast enough to keep a piece of debris out of your eye. Habits, develop habits.

When clamping things to your crosscut sled or miter gauge, make sure the clamp handle is out of the line of the cut. Oh, do not snicker. I have had two students run cold hard steel through a saw blade and then look up, with innocence dripping off their faces, saying “What?”

The jointer is another tool that is relentless in its cutting. If your stock is too thin or too narrow use a push stick. After tickling the jointer knives once long ago, I made about 4 push sticks that always live by my jointer. If your hand touches the blade guard in a cut, back off and grab a push stick. On very thin stock, take light passes and never use your thumb to push the stock through. It could end up much shorter. Use a push stick.

Do not think that only power tools can hurt you either. Your chisels, sharp or dull, can nick you pretty good. One simple habit, okay two habits to keep in mind. Clamp your work down so you can work with both hands on the tool. Then keep both hands behind the business end. This way you cannot get hurt. Get in front of the chisel and all bets on your safety are off.

If you keep these habits in place and develop your own for there are many more you could use, then on those days when you’re the least vigilant, on those days when you’re sleepy or distracted or just not yourself, on those days, you will be protected.

Gary Rogowski is the Director of The Northwest Woodworking Studio. Visit us at

Published in: on October 14, 2008 at 9:37 am  Comments (1)